Win 10 “Life As We Know It” Community Kits from Spread Truth

This Contest Is Over! Check back for other opportunities to win.
HostBox_WhiteBGLife As We Know It is one of the most interesting studies I’ve reviewed in the last several years.  Produced by Spread Truth, Life As We Know It is truly a cross-cultural experience and an enormously timely idea.

The powerful idea that makes this study so interesting is that everybody has a story.  Further, “sharing stories is foundational to community and the meaningful relationships we all long for.”

Because Life As We Know It is not a Bible study, it is well-suited for use with neighbors, friends and co-workers as well as small groups and ministry teams.  In my mind, the fact that it is designed to “facilitate gatherings where the art of storytelling is practiced and deeper relationships are forged” is one of the genius elements of the experience.

You can read my review right here.

Looking for a really great way to begin infiltrating your community?  Take advantage of the power of story!  Better yet, win 10 Community Kits that will help you connect over a hundred people!

Win 10 Community Kits that will help you connect over a hundred people!

To support the contest Spread Truth is including 10 Community Kits!

That’s a $700 value!

You must do TWO (2) things.  And you have to do both to win.

  1. Use the comment section to tell me why you’d like to win.  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win 10 “Life As We Know It” Community Kits, a $700 value”

The contest ends on Tuesday, July 7th at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!

Ready for What’s Next? Join My Fall 2014 Coaching Network

Looking for an opportunity to grow in your ability to connect beyond usual suspects? I want to invite you to join my Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network; an experience designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century.

The coaching network program will expose you to a new perspective. While it makes sense to many that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. The coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

Here’s what three of my alumni had to say about the coaching network experience:

  • “I was a part of Mark’s Coaching Network and found it to be not only beneficial to helping me think outside the box, but also to hear from other pastors across the nation. If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!”  Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor,, South Tulsa
  • “I would highly recommend Mark Howell’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  I had been studying small group strategies prior to joining the network and discovered I had all kinds of questions as to which was the best approach for our church.  Rather than try to figure it out all alone, the network was a tremendous resource for me personally as well as our church as we began to implement a small group system.  Mark did a great job encouraging, challenging, and resourcing us as we chose a model to help us identify and reach our ‘preferred future’.  My experience with Mark Howell’s Coaching Network was well worth my investment of time and finances.  It has had a profound and lasting effect on my perspective of small group ministry.”  Kem Stickl, Journey Groups Director, Whitehaven Road Baptist Church
  • “I joined Mark Howell’s coaching network because I needed to make several significant decisions in our church’s group ministry. Adding Mark’s experienced, strategic mind to our process for that season was super helpful. But the best part has been the relationship I’ve continued to build with Mark since the coaching network.”  Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor, Bible Fellowship Church

My Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in September (with a bonus call in August) and I’ve just opened up applications. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

Dilbert on Authentic Leadership

Sometimes you just need to laugh…and sometimes it hurts to laugh.

who is up for some leadership

5 Things Every New Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1

New to the role or new to the church, there are a few basic things that a new small group pastor needs to know from day one.  How will a new small group pastor know them?  Some senior pastors will need to clearly communicate them during the interview phase.  Some savvy small group pastors will arrive with this knowledge.  Sometimes clarity will end up being achieved only after an intense struggle.

However it happens, the answers to these 5 questions are prerequisite to building a thriving small group ministry.

Here are the 5 things a new small group pastor needs to know:

What is your role?  If you’re going to build a thriving small group ministry, your senior pastor must be the small group champion.  That begs the question, “What is your role?”  There are four main components:

  1. You are the behind the scenes instigator who sets in motion an annual strategy to connect people.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching New Groups Year Round.
  2. You are a role model, doing to and for your leaders (or coaches as your ministry grows) what you want them to do to and for the members of their groups.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Coach.
  3. You are a talent scout always identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity people, managing a reasonable span of care.  5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4.  You are Joshua to Moses or Timothy to Paul, looking for ways to help your senior pastor be the small group champion.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

What business are you in?  Every church has to settle this for themselves.  Stock answers will not do.  You may be uncomfortable thinking about small group ministry (or any ministry) in terms of a business, but this Peter Drucker question drives to an essential understanding.   See also, If I Was Starting Today and The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer.

Who is your customer?  The wrong answer is everyone.  Again, every church settles this question for themselves, but there should be a definite answer.  Sometimes it helps to rephrase the question as “who is my primary customer?”  Can you see the difference between the following?  My primary customers are (a) unconnected people, (b) group members, (c) group leaders, or (d) coaches.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part 2.

What will you call success?  Will success to 50% of your average adult attendance connected in groups?  80%?  150%?  Will success be something beyond connecting adults in groups (for example, “connected in groups that make disciples”).  Andy Stanley refers to this concept as clarifying the win in 7 Practices of Effective Ministry.  Clarity on this question focuses your attention on what’s most important.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part 3 and The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.

Who will you make heroes of?  Will you make heroes of pastors?  Elders?  Small group leaders?  People who respond to your pastor’s invitation to host a new small group?  Who you make heroes of determines so much about the way people respond.  Don’t miss this very important key to building a thriving small group ministry.  See also, Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups.

Note: Don’t know the answers to one or more of these questions?  Now is the time to get busy and get answers.  Without answers to these 5 questions, you’ll be wandering in the wilderness far longer than you should.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

New from Bill Hybels: Wiser Together Is a Very Good Addition

wiser togetherWorked my way through a new study from Bill Hybels.  Wiser Together: Learning to Live the Right Way “challenges you and your small group to make doing life together a priority, exploring from the book of Proverbs the inseparable connection between experiencing community and growing in wisdom.”

DVD-driven, Wiser Together is a short study, just 5 sessions.  Featuring teaching by Bill Hybels, the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the sessions are classic examples of his style.  Each segment is a manageable length, the average time is 13 to 18 minutes.

The study guide includes all of the elements needed for a very good time together.  Along with a video viewing guide, each session includes a warm-up question or two designed to get your group engaged and talking.  A good set of discussion questions pulls members into a better understanding of the wisdom of scripture and a deeper study section provides another question or two if you have time to go further.

The study guide also includes a personal journal section designed to provide a daily experience.  Each day offers the opportunity to reflect, respond and record your thoughts as you study the proverbs.  It’s a short assignment, but will definitely help those new to group life to dig in and get the hang of spending time in the Bible.

In addition, the study guide includes a great set of leader and group resources.  Tips for HOSTs, a group agreement, ideas for inviting friends, a group calendar and a group roster.  While there isn’t a leader’s guide, these resources will certainly help less experienced leaders put together a very good experience.

Wiser Together is a very good addition to the recommended list.  I can definitely see this study becoming a “go to” resource for new groups looking for a good starter study.  I can also see it working very well to establish (or re-establish) a healthy group culture.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

5 Things To Do in July to Maximize Small Group Ministry This Fall

Last month I gave you a list of 5 things to do in June to maximize small group ministry this fall.  Assuming you’re on target with last month’s five…here’s what’s next:

(Miss the June List?  Click here to see what you missed)

5 things to do in July to maximize small group ministry this fall:

  1. Plan the HOST orientation(s) that will happen in mid to late August.  Whether you’re recruiting HOSTs for a church-wide campaign or you’re launching some new groups this fall, your newest leaders will be ahead of the game if you give them the training they need to get started.  Keep in mind that adults learn on a need to know basis.  They don’t need to know everything, but there is a short list of things that will help them prepare.  See also, HOST Orientations That Work, HOST Orientations That Launch Groups, and Breaking: Add This HOST Orientation To Your Bag of Tricks.
  2. Provide the training your newly recruited coaches will need in order to come alongside your new group leaders this fall.  One of the most helpful things you can do is introduce your new leaders to their coach at the HOST orientation.  A face to face introduction will go a long way toward helping make the connection solid.  Especially after appropriately recognizing your coaches as experienced and knowledgable game-changers, your new leaders will be much more likely to return phone calls and actually look forward to connecting with their coach.  See also, Skill Training: Four Questions Every Coach Should Be Asking 
  3. Plan a HOST Rally that will take place in late August or early September.  A rally or gathering allows your senior pastor a great opportunity to cast vision about the fall from a leader’s perspective.  A rally provides a fun and inspirational boost as your groups make ready for the fall group launch.  See also, Steve Gladen on the Power of HOST Gatherings.
  4. Plan a series of email communications that will begin in August.  You’re going to need to need to communicate with existing small group leaders and new small group HOSTs as well as the whole church about what is coming.  If your church is like mine, those emails are much more likely to go out when you need them to go out if you’ve coordinated them with your database manager.  See also, 5 Keys to Getting Everyone Involved in Your Church-Wide Campaign.
  5. Plan your curriculum distribution process.  Whether you’re planning a church-wide campaign or are simply launching a wave of new groups with your fall “semester”, you’ll need to have a plan for distributing curriculum.  Many churches do the bulk of curriculum distribution in their HOST orientation.  Others set up distribution points in their bookstore or lobby.  Thinking through that process in July will allow you to recruit the number of volunteers you’ll need, coordinate delivery, as well as arranging for payment.

(Miss the June List?  Click here to see what you missed)

What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Andy Stanley: Random Thoughts on Leadership

One of the highlights of Drive ’08 was Andy Stanley’s talk, Random Thoughts On Leadership.  I’ve referenced it before and it is a great talk.  Really one of those talks that the audio hangs in the consciousness for years.  The basic gist was that Andy took 5 memorable quotes that had affected his thinking and riffed on how they were impacting his leadership and North Point’s front-of-mind decisions.  I highly recommend that you purchase it and listen to it over and over.  Great insights to be had.

In the 18 months after it was delivered Andy and the North Point crew took the talk and dealt it out in its 5 key ideas, the random thoughts, in 5 podcasts that were part of their Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast series.  You can find out how to download the most current additions right here.  Unfortunately, the podcasts aren’t archived permanently.  Being a fan…I’ve archived them right here.  Here are the quotes and the podcasts:

“To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing.” Craig Groeschel, Senior Pastor,  You can listen to the podcast right here:  What no one else is doing.

“The next generation product almost never comes from the previous generation.”  Al Ries, Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It.  You can listen to the podcast right here: Become a Student

“What do I believe is impossible to do in my field but if it could be done would fundamentally change my business?”  Joel Barker,  Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future.  You can listen to the podcast right here: Breaking Paradigms

“If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  Andy Grove, Former CEO, INTEL.  You can listen to the podcast right here: Assumptions

“When your memories exceed your dreams the end is near.”  Chuck Bentley, President of Crown Ministries.  You can listen to the podcast right here: When memories exceed your dreams

5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples

Essential IngredientsYesterday I asked the question, “What have you designed your groups to make?”  Answering my own question, I said, “Our small groups are designed to make followers of Jesus.”  And I must admit that my answer begs the question, “what kind of group will make disciples or followers of Jesus?”  See also, What Have You Designed Your Groups to Make?

What kind of group will make disciples…or followers of Jesus?

We could also ask, “What would have to be true about a group for it to make followers of Jesus?”

Good questions…don’t you think?

I’m sure there are more than these 5, but I don’t believe you can actually make followers of Jesus without these.  See what you think.

5 essential ingredients of groups that make followers of Jesus:

  1. The presence of a person who can say, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).”  How far ahead must they be?  A step or two.  Note: This person (or these people) may not need to be the leader of the group.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
  2. A curriculum focused on learning to be like Jesus.  The end in mind is being like Jesus, not knowing about Jesus.  Note: This probably means that someone more knowledgeable has laid out a pathway designed to help groups wisely choose what to study.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #3: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study.
  3. An unforced and unassuming intentionality pervades every gathering.  Groups that make authentic followers seem to operate independently of agenda.  Talking about scripture is a naturally occurring element, but so is every other aspect of life.   When appearance trumps authenticity the group produces Pharisaism.
  4. An “in but not of” culture makes inclusion natural and unforced.  Any hint of exclusivity or artificiality negates the work being done.  Learning to be like Jesus is a practical impossibility in isolation.  See also, An “In” but Not “Of” M.O.
  5. An “others first attitude” deeply saturates every aspect of the group.  Becoming like Jesus by definition assumes setting aside more and more of your own personal interests.  See also, A Willingness to Set Aside Your Own Interests.

What do you think?  Have one to add? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Anthony Georgeff

What Have You Designed Your Groups to Make?

What have you designed your small groups to make?

This is an ongoing discussion right now…at least in my world.  It’s framed differently from one conversation to another and the frame itself manufactures slightly different answers…most of them a little vague.

What have you designed your groups to make?  Acquaintances?  Friends?  Fully devoted followers?  Disciples?  Followers?

You might prefer, “What are your groups designed to do?”  In which case you might answer “make disciples” or “make disciples who make disciples.”

I’d rather answer this one, “What have you designed your groups to make?”  My answer?  I say, “Our small groups are designed to make followers of Jesus.”  At least, that’s what I say.

Honestly, I’m challenged by something Dallas Willard said when describing a follower or disciple of Jesus:

Disciples of Jesus are those who are with him, learning to be like him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as he would lead their life if he were they.” (Renovation of the Heart, 241)

Dallas Willard went on to say:

A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”

Question: Have I really designed my small groups to make that kind of follower?

And when I read these lines I’m reminded again that, according to Andy Stanley, my “ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results I’m currently experiencing.”

And if my groups aren’t really designed to make that kind of follower…what would have to be true for my groups to begin producing followers who “effortlessly do what Jesus would do if Jesus were them?”  See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change, Groups of  All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change, and 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

What have you designed your groups to make?

How would you answer that question?

What do you think?  Have one to add? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Soul Keeping: A Important New Study from John Ortberg

soul keeping dvdHad a chance to preview John Ortberg’s newest DVD-driven study this week.  Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You is based on Ortberg’s book by the same title and is an exploration of the soul from “the perspective of someone who has struggled to understand and care for his own soul.”  A very personal study, Soul Keeping will take your group in a life-changing direction.

DVD-driven, Soul Keeping is a six-session study featuring classic Ortberg teaching on what might be his sweetest sweet spot.  At 22 to 25 minutes long, the video segments are at the upper end of attention span, but honestly, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the story that the time flies right by.

The study guide includes all of the elements you need for an engaging study:

  • An extensive video viewing guide with space to take notes along with the quotes you wish you could write down and the illustrations that make the idea clear.
  • A group discussion guide that opens the door to an engaging conversation about the key ideas of the session.
  • A short individual activity to be completed on your own during the group meeting.
  • A group practice to complete individually during the following week.  The practice is designed to help members to deeply apply what they are learning.
  • A personal study is also included for the following week.  Although it could be completed in one sitting, each personal study is fairly extensive (6 to 10 pages).

If you’re wondering how to help your group members reclaim or restore their sense of soul health, Soul Keeping might be the most important study your group will do this year.  I loved every minute of it and I think your group will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”